Thought Leadership

Going all in: gaining the confidence to advance your goals

Women have been trying to break through the metaphorical glass ceiling for decades. There is no shortage of well-meaning advisors, mentorship programs, development programs and books meant to help women attain the most senior level positions in companies. Yet, only eight percent of Fortune 500 companies are helmed by a female CEO — and this is an all-time high! The story is not much better if we look more broadly at women who occupy other C-suite positions: about 25 percent, according to Korn Ferry. For women of color, the numbers tell an even bleaker story.

The majority of development programs for women executives focus on building a broad base of skills to support the different phases of their career. But, according to Professor Gail Berger, Deputy Director for the Center for Executive Women at Kellogg, only focusing on skill-building is not enough. It is only when certain interpersonal skills are combined with a strong sense of confidence that women are best equipped to reach their highest potential.

“We need to empower women with the confidence to shoot for the stars,” says Berger. “Whether shooting for the stars means asking for a promotion or putting a big idea out there, or even supporting another woman’s endeavors — women need to have lofty goals. We need to equip women with the courage and confidence to step outside their comfort zone and ask for more to reap the rewards of doing so.”

Berger, who is the Academic Director for the Empowering Women: From the Poker Table to a Seat at the Executive Leadership Table program at Kellogg Executive Education, uses the game of poker as a platform to provide female-identifying participants with the opportunity to practice skills they will need in real-life business settings. The classroom provides a safe space to stretch and grow muscles, allowing participants to see how it feels to use their skills and succeed.

Deliberately focusing on how to transfer skills from one domain to another is an important tool for women to develop so they can grow as leaders. Women can think about how they lead or assert themselves in their personal lives and use those same skills in the C-suite. For example, many women consistently and confidently navigate thorny personal decisions. Or, they may be known as sage advice-givers. Yet, when it comes to applying these insights in their careers they lose courage and second-guess themselves. Developing and trusting those instincts they already have will allow them to forge ahead.

Berger notes that while consistently setting a high bar is a major step forward, it is just as important for women to know when to pull back. According to Berger, “Just like in poker, there’s the ‘know when to hold, know when to fold’ rule. It takes courage to ask, ‘when do I make the choice to keep pushing through obstacles, and when have I not been dealt the strongest hand?’ Because not everything is in our control.” As Berger explains in her program, poker, like life, is a game of strategy and chance. “You have to make decisions with the cards you’ve been dealt. There's accountability for the decisions we make, but there is a liberation in knowing we don’t control everything but we do the best we can — having the courage to take a chance is a win in itself. Have the mindset to know that you gave it your all but if it doesn’t turn out well, that doesn’t mean you made a bad decision.”

Berger has seen several positive outcomes from women gaining this confidence. “People have asked for promotions, negotiated new roles, or negotiated new resources for their teams.” Berger points out that smaller wins are just as important, because they forge a path for this kind of behavior that will lead to bigger outcomes down the road. It’s a “virtuous cycle,” says Berger. “We love to see people continuing to build on this confidence and go all in on themselves.”

Gail Berger Gail Berger is a Clinical Associate Professor at Northwestern University in the Kellogg School of Management, the McCormick School of Engineering, and the School of Communication, and the Deputy Director of the Center for Executive Women at Kellogg. She brings professional and academic experience in the areas of talent development and assessment, conflict resolution, and team dynamics, and she works with clients across industries and sectors. Berger earned her BA in Psychology and Elementary Education from Boston University; her MS in Management and Organizations from the Kellogg School of Management; her MEd Administration and Supervision from Loyola University; and her PhD in Management and Organizations, Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

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Empowering Women: From the Poker Table to a Seat at the Executive Leadership Table

Kellogg is partnering with Poker Power to offer a unique and highly innovative program that will provide women across all levels of their companies with an opportunity to develop key leadership skills in an educational, supportive, engaging and entertaining environment.

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